A Not So Typical Book About Daddy

For Father’s Day, I made “A Book About My Daddy” workbook for the Dumpling to fill out as a personalized gift for jigg. The template contained typical sections to fill in her dad’s name, age, eye color, reasons she loves him, etc. Unlike typical “feel good” versions, however, I made sure mine contained opportunities to have a few laughs at my husband’s expense. She got to rate jigg’s skill in various categories, compare his abilities with mommy, and divulge what he sucks at doing.

Excerpts

The Dumpling’s brutal honesty did not disappoint! My kid is savage. Never ask her any questions that you do not want to know the answers to.

Seems like jigg needs to lose some weight.
It’s quite obvious who the favorite parent is.
jigg refused to accept his two-star rating for hugs. After some questionable interrogation tactics, he got the Dumpling to change the rating to five stars…
Sounds about right.
In an earlier page, the Dumpling thought that jigg is bad at earning money, but he is very good at spending it!

Template

A number of people has asked me to share the book template, so here it is! I made a few edits to my original version so that the questions and answer options can be applicable to more people. Even though Father’s Day is over, this would make a funny birthday gift for dads as well.

Indoor Play & Activities: Recap of September 2018

September has brought about a stretch of dry weather in Hong Kong, so the Dumpling and I have been spending most of our afternoons outdoor. For the days that we stayed in, our activities have centered around reviewing the Chinese words that she’s been learning at school, celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, and discussing the aftermath of the typhoon that hit our city midway through the month.

Learning Chinese 

Ever since the Dumpling started kindergarten, I wanted to increase her exposure to Mandarin at home to reinforce what she’s learning at school. I tried reading Chinese children’s stories with her, but the words sounded so foreign that she exasperatingly asked, “Mommy, what are you saying?!” When I switched the language of her Netflix shows from English to Chinese, it solicited such a visceral reaction that I quickly reverted everything to its original state.

Eventually I backed off…until one day, out of nowhere, she muttered her first Mandarin words at home. At first it was counting to five, then to ten, and now a few words and broken phrases. She was so proud of herself at times that she wouldn’t shut up! I quickly capitalized on her newfound interest by creating several puzzles to further engage her through play.

Chinese and Arabic Number Puzzle Match

Click here to download.

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I created this puzzle to help the Dumpling recognize Chinese numbers and associate them with their Arabic counterparts.

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Directions: Glue each printout to a piece of cardboard. Carefully cut out the puzzle pieces with an X-Acto knife. Finally (and optionally) cut a semi-circle at the bottom of each piece so that it’s easier to pull off from the puzzle board.

Self-Correcting Chinese Vocabulary Puzzle

(Sorry, folks—because I used stock illustrations* to make this puzzle, I do not have the license to re-distribute this as a printable.)

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The Chinese characters used in the puzzle correlate with the vocabulary words the Dumpling is learning at school. I don’t expect her to read yet, so I just sound out each character as we match the pieces.

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* Some illustrations used in this puzzle were stock illustrations downloaded from Feepik.

Chinese Color Match Memory Game

Click here to download.

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To play, lay the pieces with their backsides facing up. Flip over two pieces on each turn with the goal of finding two matching colors in as few moves as possible. Again, I don’t expect the Dumpling to read just yet; I just say the colors aloud as we play. We initially started playing with only two colors and have currently built up to six.

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Directions: Make two copies of the printable, glue the sheets onto pieces of cardboard, and cut out each color circle.

Celebrating Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

The Dumpling and I experimented with different methods of making lanterns throughout September. Details can be found here.

My Post (9)

Dealing with the Aftermath of Typhoon Mangkhut

Typhoon Mangkut was supposedly the fiercest storm to hit Hong Kong in the last 30 years. For a few hours, our windows and door shook violently and rainwater leaked in non-stop.

The next morning, the Dumpling and I ventured outside to assess the damages. There were lots of downed trees and foliage as expected, but to our surprise there were also shattered seashells outside our flat! We live less than a quarter of a mile away from the beach, but we are also situated on a hill approximately 80 feet above sea level so these seashells were a long way from home. The Dumpling and I managed to find several intact ones which we brought home and painted.

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Our souvenirs from the typhoon.

Leaning Out: The Transition From Working Mom to Stay-At-Home Mom

“I’m retiring!”

That was what I told everyone back in New York when they asked me what I would be doing after relocating to Hong Kong. There would be no more waking up at 6:00 AM, three hour commutes, ten hour workdays, or chore-filled weekends. Most importantly, no more feeling guilty about spending more time in the office than I did with my own daughter. I had grand visions of us watching the sunrise from our oceanfront flat, brunching by the beach, and making Pinterest-worthy artwork together.

Watching the sunrise from our flat…check!

Like many trailing spouses that arrive in this city, I opted not to work so that jigg can focus on his job while I settle our family down. I never intended to become a stay-at-home mom: my goal was to spend more time with the Dumpling, not all of my time. It turned out that way, however, because there are no daycares in Hong Kong…something I didn’t know until I arrived. Anyone who has cared for young children would know that my plans for a perpetual vacation went out the window the moment I found that out.

This full-time mom gig is turning out to be the crappiest, and as cliche as it sounds, also the most rewarding job I ever had. On one hand, the Dumpling dictates when I wake up (which is now 6:30 AM instead of 6:00 AM), what we watch on TV, and basically what we do on most days. I often found myself counting down the minutes to her nap and bed times when she behaves like…well, like a two year old. Like the time she found a piece of dog poop in the sandbox. Or the time she insisted on taking the stairs up the hill to our apartment, changed her mind midway, and made me carry her the rest of the way. Or the time she made me look like a kidnapper because I had to drag her home from the playground.

The Dumpling is turning into a beach bum!

Then there were sweet moments—moments that I would have missed if I weren’t home, scattered in between that made me forget all the physical, emotional, and mental abuse that she put me through. During the last three months, I got to eavesdrop on her nonsensical conversations with herself, listen to her off-key rendition of “ABCs” on repeat, and do countless potty dances with her. It’s simultaneously annoying and heartwarming that she wants to play with me all the time (except when jigg is home, then I’m just chopped liver). I know these days won’t last; sooner or later, it would be me who wants to spend more time with her.

While I fulfilled one aspect of my life that was missing, it created a void in another. Walking away from my career felt like I threw away everything I have worked for in the last 32 years. In a time where “leaning in” is celebrated as the modern woman’s goal, “leaning out” seemed to be the antithesis of what I was taught. What was the point of my mother’s sacrifices so I can concentrate on school? Of me working so hard? Of my family, friends, and mentors investing so much time and effort in me?

For the first time since I was 14 years old, I no longer brought home a paycheck, which had served as a self-esteem booster and a measurement of success. It was also a social equalizer in our household because when I worked roughly as many hours and brought home just as much as my husband, it was hard for anyone to impose gender-based responsibilities on me (not that jigg ever did). I used to tell people what I did for a living with pride; now I’m just unemployed.

I miss working…not the hours, stress, or commute, but the opportunity to interact with smart people, be challenged, and thrive. There are ideas buzzing in my head that I wish I had more than just the Dumpling’s nap time to work on. For someone like me, I realized that I can never truly lean out. Currently, I’m trying to find fulfillment as an aspiring mommy blogger by combining motherhood, crafting, and skills from my former life.

My new boss (the Dumpling) is a hard-to-please dictator, my hours are longer, and I’m pretty much a one-woman team…so much for retirement!

My Toddler Tells Me a Bedtime Story

The Dumpling’s imagination has been developing rapidly in the past month. Instead of only seeing objects as they are, she can now envision them as something else in her make-believe play. For example, she played with an iPhone box as if it was a car, saw a train in the shadow casted by our curtains, and re-enacted a scene from the Minions movie with a dinosaur cookie cutter and play dough.

Imagination is an important skill for a child to acquire because the ability to think creatively and differently builds a world of infinite possibilities—there’s always a new idea, invention, or method waiting to be dreamed up. While I don’t think there’s a surefire method to teach imagination like the way shapes, colors, letters, and numbers are taught, creativity is like a muscle—the more it’s used, the more it develops. Therefore, the best I can do as a parent is to look for opportunities for the Dumpling to exercise it as much as possible.

I have shared in my past entries that reading with the Dumpling has been an ongoing challenge in our household. Instead of forcing her to do something she didn’t want to, I actually packed her books away (quite literally since we were moving) and stopped bedtime stories for a few months. I recently reintroduced them back into our nightly routine…with a new twist. Instead of me doing the reading, I asked the Dumpling to tell me a story instead. She obviously cannot read yet, so I helped her string together a simple narrative by digging deep into our imagination.

We first created the characters using illustrations from “Goodnight Little Remy,” a personalized book that depicts various animals wishing the Dumpling a good night. The actual story, as the author intended, was entirely irrelevant; we just needed the visuals as a starting point. I facilitated by asking the Dumpling a series of questions about what her characters did or intend to do, how they feel, and what their relations are with each other…essentially anything that is not shown in the artwork.

The questions were all relatable to the Dumpling’s everyday life and her responses often reflected that. If she couldn’t answer (which was often the case at the beginning), I presented her with a list of choices to pick from until she nodded her head in agreement. Below are sample questions based on a spread featuring owls in the book.

  • “What is the owl’s name? Is it Bob? Kevin? Stuart?”
  • “Does the owl have a Mommy? Daddy? Brother? Sister? Friends?”
  • “Are the owls and birds neighbors? Are they friends?”
  • “How are the owls feeling? Are they happy? Sad? Hungry? Angry?”
  • “What did they have for breakfast? Banana? Apple? Kiwi?”
  • “Did the owls ride the train or go to the playground?”

Once we gathered enough details, I pieced together a story based on the Dumpling’s answers. After repeating this activity for a week (with multiple rounds of revision on her end), she was even able to tell me bits and pieces of her own story!

As I mentioned previously, the real story was not important. I never corrected the Dumpling by reading what’s printed on the text. My goal was to nurture her imagination, therefore, it didn’t matter if her tale defied the rules of physics, space, and time. I’m pretty sure there will be many people in her lifetime that would tell her that her ideas are impossible—I’ll try not to be one of them.

Goodnight Little Remy
Retold by the Dumpling (with help from mommy)

There was a sleeping bird who flew across the night sky, over an empty house where an old grandpa once lived. The sleeping bird watched fireworks and visited a bird family. There was a Daddy Bird (because he’s big), Mommy Bird (also because she’s big), Brother Bird, Sister Bird, and Baby Bird. There was also a Friend Bird who will grow up to be a dinosaur. RAWR! The Friend Bird was very popular because he had multiple girlfriend birds.

The Baby Bird lived in a nest with two other eggs, but the eggs would become the Dumpling’s snack when she gets hungry. Nom! Nom! Nom!

All of the birds like going to the playground and down the slide with their friends and neighbors, the owls! The owl family has a Daddy Owl, Mommy Owl, Brother Owl, Sister Owl, and Baby Owl. The owls were not happy because they didn’t love each other.

The end.

The Dumpling’s First School Interview

“Thank you for your enrollment application for our Kindergarten. We would like to invite you and Remy to school to meet with one of our teachers. It will be a good opportunity for parents to have a further understanding of the school and a chance for us to get to know your child.”

The Dumpling got invited for a school interview, but my initial excitement upon receiving this email was quickly replaced by bewilderment—mostly wondering what on earth would they ask a two year old?!

Friends and family have warned me before my relocation to Hong Kong that its education system is extremely competitive, but I shrugged it off. While enrolling her into a decent school is a priority, enrolling her into the best school isn’t. It was never my intention to leave the education, discipline, and upbringing of my child solely in the hands of teachers; being a supportive and involved parent is just as important. This may also be an unpopular opinion in Hong Kong, but I don’t believe that academics is the golden ticket to success…good grades can only get you so far in life.

The primary reason why I want to get her in ASAP is so she can develop social skills with other kids, a lesson that I will never be able to provide.

(And so I can catch a break everyday.)

I received the invitation last Thursday. The meeting was scheduled for this past Monday. Prepping the Dumpling did cross my mind, but I decided against it. I didn’t even bother Googling what these interviews are like… it’s not like we can cram or pull all-nighters together. If there was something she couldn’t learn in the last 26 months of her life, I doubt four days would be a game changer.

On the morning of the big day, I dressed her in a cute pink floral outfit, gave her a cookie (as a bribe to be a good girl), and off we went.

Upon arrival, the school receptionist asked what the Dumpling’s primary language is. When I replied that she understands both Cantonese and English, a Cantonese teacher greeted us and started conversing with my daughter.

We had a lackluster start because the Dumpling wasn’t very responsive. When she did speak, it was in English. The teacher then suggested meeting with the English teacher instead. At that moment, I realized how important answering the language preference question was on the application. Maybe it was because I was there instead of jigg since the Dumpling prefers to speak English with me and Cantonese with her dad.

The English teacher then brought us to an office, a type of room where I imagined a kid would go to when he/she gets in trouble. She had a box of materials such as color pencils, books, toys, stickers, paper, etc. The set up looked serious.

Object Recognition

The teacher first took out an ABCs book and asked the Dumpling to name the fruits, objects, and animals on each page. The Dumpling flew through each one since the pictures were typical ones found in most children’s books.

Color Recognition

Next the teacher gave the Dumpling a piece of paper, took out a set of color pencils, and handed them to the Dumpling one by one. As the Dumpling scribbled, the teacher asked her to name the colors: red, orange, yellow, blue, green, purple, pink, brown, purple, and black.

We had one hiccup; there wasn’t a white pencil so the teacher pointed to the paper and asked what the color of the paper is. The Dumpling misinterpreted and started doodling on the spot that the teacher pointed to. After two more attempts, the teacher moved on. I understood why the Dumpling was confused, but held my tongue since I didn’t want to come off as a helicopter mom.

Number Recognition

For the following exercise, the teacher shuffled a set of flashcards with 1 through 10 and asked the Dumpling to read the numbers. She breezed through them since we just finished number recognition recently.

Shape Recognition

Flashcards of various shapes were presented for identification. The Dumpling got every one: triangle, rectangle, circle, square, diamond, star, heart, and hexagon. Yes, there was a hexagon in the deck. I was patting myself in the back for that one because jigg thought it was a useless shape to teach a toddler. HA, proved him wrong!

Counting

The teacher then took out a basket of chips and asked the Dumpling to count with her. I immediately knew my daughter wouldn’t be able to do this yet; but I nonetheless let the teacher lead. After a few attempts, I stepped in and explained that we were still working on this concept.

Miscellaneous Questions

Various one-off questions were also scattered throughout the interview, such as:

  • Is the elephant big or small?
  • What is your favorite color?
  • How old are you?

In the end, I asked the teacher how the interview will be evaluated. She replied that it’s not really what the child knows but how he/she communicates and interacts. Her answer sounded suspiciously incomplete but I didn’t press. If the assessment were purely subjective, what was the point of all those tests?!! Regardless of the results, I was so proud of my daughter and gave her three cookies on our way home.

I already knew ahead of time that the kindergarten was completely full. The interview was just something to cross off the application process in the event that a spot opened up. In the meantime, I intend to join a parent-accompanied play group that meets three days a week. I really do miss the U.S. where I can just drop the Dumpling off at daycare for 10 hours everyday. If one can be found here, please take my money!

(I finally did Google what the nursery school application process is like in Hong Kong…this shit is insane!)

Paradoxical Expectations of the Working Mom

Working moms today are often harshly criticized because we are held to almost impossible standards—we are expected to work like we don’t have kids; and we are expected to raise children like we don’t work. Even when fathers are assuming more child rearing and household responsibilities, they are praised as doing extra while mothers are seen as only doing par. The home is still seen as our primary domain, and it’s up to us to figure out how to level the playing field if we want to be with the big boys in the corporate world.

Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Like many female colleagues of my generation, I was encouraged to “have it all” and look up to women who seemingly found a way to balance work and motherhood. I found myself struggling to sustain my career momentum, however, once the Dumpling come into the picture. In a fast-paced city like New York, where nine hour days are the minimum and anything above is normal, the grind can be especially gruesome. Compared to my colleagues who come in earlier, leave later, and participate in after-hour social events, I often feel like I’m not a team player because I dart out of the office at 5:30 pm.

While other moms are more understanding, there are a few who think every woman should make the same sacrifices they did. There’s the successful female executive with the “I-did-it-and-so-can-you” attitude who thinks the rest of us are just a bunch of complainers. Then there’s the stay-at-home mom who questioned my judgement in putting the Dumpling at daycare when she was only six months old.

Although progress is headed in the right direction, corporate America still isn’t too family friendly. Maternity leave is not mandatory and left to the discretion of the employer. Americans also clock in more hours per week (special shout out to New York!), have fewer holidays, and vacation days compared to most of our European counterparts. While taking holidays and long lunches are culturally acceptable in Europe, it carries a negative stigma in the U.S. The higher up the corporate ladder the we climb, the more we are expected to be accessible 24/7 and available to travel regularly.

Meeting the Demands of Modern Day Motherhood

Even if moms are willing to grind it out, childcare is a common challenge. The core U.S. household is typically made up of only the parents and their children. Therefore, extended family members, like grandparents, do not play major roles as caregivers on a daily basis, and most working parents are forced to seek outside help. Day cares often have long wait lists, are expensive, and penalizes heavily on late pick-ups. jigg and I pay $270 a week, and we are fortunate to have our in-laws do the evening pick ups and babysit for about an hour until I get home. Otherwise, the current local rate for a nanny runs anywhere between $15-$25 an hour. While live-in helpers are common in Asia for many middle-class families, they are entirely out of reach for most in the U.S. For example, a cost of a live-in helper in Hong Kong, who helps with not only childcare, but also cooking, cleaning, errands, and general household chores six days a week costs approximately $4,010 HKD per month, or $514 USD. That’s about a week’s pay for a nanny in the U.S.

Modern parents also need to be very involved. Child experts recommend a barrage of activities that parents should do with their toddlers to develop their sensory, gross motor, fine motor, social, and communication skills. Once school starts, parents are expected to review homework assignments, attend parent-teacher conferences, volunteer for funds raises, etc. Most of these responsibilities inevitably fall onto the mother.

Society in general has expectations (often hidden in a form of unsolicited advice) of how our children ought to behave by cherry picking from the best practices across different cultures. My elders brag about how they managed to put dinner on the table every night, do chores by hand, and raised kids without the fancy gadgets. I’m told to admire the French, who cook sophisticated meals for their children and are firm in their discipline. Compared to Americans, we have raised a kiddy population of obese, picky eating dictators. My Chinese relatives bring up how so and so enrolled their children in swimming, piano, and Mandarin classes and advised I should look into them as well before my daughter falls behind.

Time Scarcity

Capture

It’s no wonder that I always feel like there’s not enough time; I’m working two full time jobs on a daily basis. In the span of 24 hours, “work” and “commute” take up approximately 12 hours of my day; there’s not much I can do to easily change these unless I quit my job or move closer to the city. “Sleep” takes up eight hours (Do I really need eight hours? Yes, I do), which leaves me with the remaining four to do everything else under “other”.

“Other” is a category that includes getting the Dumpling ready for daycare in the morning, then feeding, cleaning, playing and putting her to bed at night. Somewhere in between, I also have to eat, tidy up the house, and make time for jigg and me. I’m scratching my head trying to find time to do everything else I’m supposed to be doing as a “good mother.” If I attend that happy hour, I would miss tucking my daughter in bed. If I cooked in the evenings, being in front of the stove would take away from time spent reading to her. If I enrolled her in weekend classes, she would be spending even more time with outside caregivers than her parents.

Learning from my elders and parents in other cultures should serve as an inspiration. But when their best practices are used as baseline comparisons of how I ought to parent, it’s easy to become disheartened. I remind myself that while they face challenges that I cannot relate to, I have career aspirations and societal expectations that my mom didn’t have, or work hours and childcare costs that my mommy friends from other countries don’t face. As a result, I pick and choose my parenting battles and accept that I do some things better and fall short on others.

Kid’s Birthday Parties Are Stupid But I Keep Throwing Them!

The Dumpling is turning two years old in less than a month, and I’m currently in a full party planning frenzy. My dining room table is taken over by scraps of paper, half assembled favor bags, and experimental decorations that are at the edge of becoming either Pinterest wins or fails.

I often question why I invest so much effort into something that the Dumpling won’t remember. Before becoming a mom, I thought that kid’s birthday parties are stupid. Now that I have a little one, I still think they are. jigg is personally against the social extravagance and wants nothing to do with them. As a result, leaving me alone and babysitting the Dumpling are his forms of support.

A Look Back at the Dumpling’s First Birthday

Planning the Dumpling’s first birthday was my first DIY project after an almost two year hiatus. It was also a personal test to see if I still have any creative juice left after exhausting all my energy into motherhood. I always thought having children was another milestone to a fulfilling and meaningful life, but motherhood ended up feeling more like a chore. Since giving birth, my days revolved around nursing, pumping, changing diapers, and working. In a depressing reality that I didn’t want to admit, I felt tied down because of the things I gave up to make room for my daughter. I never thought of myself as an “I can’t” person, but I became one.

“I can’t go to happy hour because I have to go home to take care of my daughter.”

“I can’t meet you for dinner because the Dumpling’s bedtime is 7pm.”

“I can’t go shopping because I have to pump/nurse every three hours.”

“I can’t meet you in the city because I can’t carry the baby, the stroller, and the diaper bag on the train.”

“I can’t leave the baby at home because I want to spend more time with her.”

“I can’t take on this project because I don’t have time.”

“I can’t [insert activity] because I’m so tired.”

Even as I revisit my reasons now, I still believe they were legitimate and can sympathize with my past self. However, I knew that if I didn’t drag myself out of this mentality, I would eventually lose myself.

My road to self re-discovery started with crafting because it didn’t violate my “I can’t” reasons; I had no excuses. Honestly it could have been anything – cooking, baking, photography, writing, piano, etc. I used the Dumpling’s birthday party as my objective and immersed myself into making it happen. Again, it could have been any occasion; it just happened that the Dumpling’s birthday was around the corner when I had the epiphany. I took every opportunity during the Dumpling’s nap times on weekends to create banners, tassels, favor boxes, and other party decorations. I could have easily bought everything on Amazon or Etsy, but I was insistent on making my own. In the end, I managed to pull together a not-so-scary Halloween-ish themed orange and black celebration.

The truth was that the party was as much for me as it was for the Dumpling. It boosted my confidence and helped me rediscover the things I loved before my daughter overtook my life.

It turned out that I can!

As I undertook new arts and crafts projects, I began merging my hobbies with spending time with my daughter so that I was able to derive fulfillment simultaneously in both. I sculpted with play dough, built a cardboard theater, penned a silly poem, made a board book, turned my daughter’s finger painting into a coffee table book, and started writing again. One project led to another, and I’m now an aspiring mommy blogger who sees the Dumpling as my muse.

As unnecessary and extravagant as I still think kid’s birthday parties are, I will continue throwing them as yearly celebrations of everything my daughter and I have achieved together. I also look forward to the day when the Dumpling is old enough plan and bring her own parties to life. The task my seem daunting for a little girl, but I will be able to teach her that she also can!

The Dumpling Is Like the Cat I Never Had

Coming home from work is my favorite part of the day. It has been 12 hours since I last saw the Dumpling, so surely she would have missed me as I have missed her. The poor girl had probably spent her whole day waiting for mommy to shower her with hugs and kisses.

At least that was what I thought as I walked through the front door.

“Sweetie, Mommy is home!” Expecting the scene that I just envisioned to play out, I held open my arms and waited.

The Dumpling glanced at me and then continued watching The Secret Life of Pets for the umpteenth time.

“Sweetheart?” I called again.

My daughter didn’t even turn her head this time.

“Can you give mommy a hug?” I waited with my arms still wide open. I eventually gave up and went over to hug and kiss her instead.

Weekday evenings can be rough. It’s always a mad dash to leave work at 5:30 pm just to spend the next 1.5 hours sitting through New York City rush hour traffic. When I get home around 7:00 pm, it’s time to start my second job as the Dumpling’s mommy.

On this particular night, it was 7:30 pm by the time the Dumpling was fed and cleaned, but I needed to keep her occupied for another few minutes to vaccuum the trail of crumbs she left all over the house and pack her food for daycare tomorrow.

“Do you want to watch Masha and the Bear?” I asked her as I turned on Netflix. The Dumpling nodded and climbed on the couch. That would be approximately 10 minutes of uninterrupted free time I just bought myself, so I hurried back into the kitchen. After I was done, I peeped into the living room to check on the Dumpling. Finding that she was still content with watching TV, I rummaged through the fridge for some leftovers and popped the plate in the microwave. I finally had some time to myself!

I was maybe four bites in when the Dumpling scurried over.

“Ma-nye, poe poe!” She said with arms wide open and the saddest look on her face.

“Aw, sweetie! You finally want mommy to hold you?” I forgave all previous transgressions and scooped her up.

“Sit.” The Dumpling instructed while pointing to the living room couch. I carried her over and she snuggled up in between my arms as we watched TV together. When she made a silly face in imitation of the main character, we both giggled hysterically.

My daughter is like a cat that I never had: she demands my attention when it suits her but pretends that I don’t exist when it doesn’t. At that moment, all she wanted was her mommy, so I held her even tighter because moments like this were worth everything that I worked so hard for.

The Dumpling then perked up when she heard the front door opened.

“Daddy! Daddy!” She said with the biggest smile on her face and ran over with arms wide open…just like the scene I had envisioned for myself earlier.

For the rest of the night, I was relegated to nonexistent.

The Doodle Wars

The magna doodle started out as a relatively benign toy in our household. Its purpose was to introduce the Dumpling to drawing without giving me the anxiety of having to scrub crayons off the walls. Although the most I could get out of her were a bunch of scribbles, I would also take turns doodling to keep her engaged. I turned my sketches into a game where I would ask her to name or pick out the correct animal, object, or letter on the board. The ever changing artwork and the interaction kept her interested and bringing me the magna doodle has become part of her daily play.

Everything changed one day when jigg sketched a “rabbit”. I commented that it looked nothing like what it’s supposed to be and drew my version next to his. He obviously disagreed, so we turned to the Dumpling for the tie breaker. I showed her the board and asked her to find the rabbit. Without hesitation, she pointed to mine.

jigg cried foul and claimed that I had more practice. There was only one thing left to do whenever we have a trivial disagreement – we took our case to Facebook. I posted the below picture and asked our friends to decide: who drew the better bunny? The consensus was that jigg’s looked like a rat.

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Winner: Mrs. jigg (left)

Then came the rematch and then another. What started out as an educational exercise for the Dumpling somehow morphed into an ongoing doodle war between jigg and me. The rules are simple: jigg and I each have half the board to draw the same animal that we take turns selecting (the Dumpling currently can correctly identify 30+ animals, so we have a sizable pool to pick from). We then present our work and ask her to point out the animal. Whichever one she selects first is the winner.

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Winner: jigg (right)

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Winner: jigg (right)

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Winner: jigg (right)

As the Dumpling assessed our work, it was interesting for jigg and me to analyze her thought process. At 20 months, she is able to pick up certain physical traits unique to specific animals even if they’re poorly drawn: cats have pointy ears and whiskers; crabs have claws; fish have fins; etc. Although her speech is still limited (we were told that speech development for children growing up in bilingual households take a bit longer), she displays her understanding by identifying an animal in one of three ways depending on what is easier for her to vocalize – by its English or Chinese name, or the sound the animal makes. It’s assuring to know that she can connect the same thing in multiple forms.  For example, she understands that “moo”, “cow,” and “ngau” (Chinese for cow) are associated with cow, but she can only say “moo” and “ngau”.

The Dumpling also turned out to be a fair and honest judge in our doodle wars. Sometimes she would just stare and stare and wouldn’t be able to find the animal she was supposed to be looking for. In that case, it means that jigg and my drawings both suck.

To be honest, my art skills are probably slightly better than average at best. Even though jigg is currently ahead in the doodle wars, it makes me happy when my daughter picks mine. That means she [sometimes] “gets me”.